May 25, 2022

Children’s Ministry Is Crucial, But Its Impact Is Hard to Measure

Kids’ ministry is a powerful opportunity to form lasting faith in the lives of young people. Yet new data from Children’s Ministry in a New Reality, a Barna report produced in partnership with Awana, show the majority of children’s ministry leaders feels this ministry is often forgotten by their church.

This article looks at key findings from this new study, exploring the importance that parents, kids’ ministry leaders and other congregants place on children’s ministry, as well as how difficult it can be to measure the impact of this necessary ministry.

Children's Ministry in a New Reality

Building Church Communities that Cultivate Lasting Faith

Over Half of Children’s Ministry Leaders Say Kids’ Ministry Is Often Forgotten
Walk into any church in the U.S., and you will most likely find an option for children’s ministry. Overall, 80 percent of churches have a children’s ministry, and 81 percent have a youth ministry, according to congregants. Other programs for groups like married adults, college students or seniors, though still available in many churches, are far less common than ministry for kids and youth.

Children’s ministry’s ubiquitous presence is tied to its unmistakable priority. It is seen as one of the most important things, if not the most important thing, in a church. Ask anyone—ministry leaders, congregants, parents and guardians.

Nearly two-thirds of children’s ministry leaders (64%) go so far as to strongly agree churches cannot grow without an effective children’s ministry. Even in decisions about facilities, church plants or building expansions, children’s ministry spaces are by far the top consideration.

Likewise, the majority among churched parents of 5–14-year-olds says the children’s ministry was “very” important in their selection of their church (62%). Assuming their church can only focus on a couple of programs, a similar majority (61%) says children’s ministry would be most important (comparatively, youth ministry is selected by 48% and adult ministry by 38%). Though this percentage declines somewhat when the sample includes non-parents (who are, naturally, more interested in adult ministry), children’s ministry is still chosen by half of all congregants (51%) as the most important focus of a church, making this the top response overall in a list of age-specific or affinity church programs.

That’s not to say parents don’t have priorities in the broader context of a church, including their own experience. Rather, the majority (54%) strongly agrees a kid’s time in children’s ministry is just as important as a parent’s time in the sanctuary.

Yet even as children’s ministry leaders, parents and even non-parents say this ministry is crucial to church growth, kids’ ministry leaders aren’t so sure that sentiment is actually shared by others. Rather, the slight majority agrees to some extent (15% strongly, 41% somewhat) that children’s ministry is often forgotten in their church.

87% of Kids’ Ministry Leaders Believe Their Work Makes a Long-Term Difference
Encouragingly, children’s ministry leaders have a hunch that their work is indeed making a long-term difference in kid’s lives (45% “definitely,” 42% “somewhat”). Churched adults, especially parents of 5–14-year-olds, agree in even higher numbers.

Leaders could use a boost, however, in precisely evaluating their impact. Few (8%) say it’s very easy to do so. Instead, most say it’s either somewhat difficult (48%) or only somewhat easy (40%) to evaluate impact.

Open-ended responses allowed children’s ministry leaders to share some of the ways they discern their impact and effectiveness. Across all responses, parental involvement / family engagement is mentioned most often as a critical determinant of outcomes. Many of the leaders’ suggested indicators of impact are subjective or difficult to get a handle on, such as “excitement.” Several leaders mention having faith that their work must have long-term impact because they believe the Word of God does not return void (Isaiah 55:11).

It’s interesting to note that children’s ministry leaders’ sense of satisfaction and support hangs together with the ability to assess their impact. While this study can’t define the direction of that relationship—if satisfaction and support stem from having strong metrics for impact, or if strong metrics for impact stem from having satisfaction and support. But we do see that clear measures for evaluating effectiveness in children’s ministry are a quality of supportive, satisfying church environments.

Further reading and resources:

Children's Ministry in a New Reality

Building Church Communities that Cultivate Lasting Faith

About the Research

This study included a set of quantitative online surveys.

The first survey interviewed 2,051 U.S. adults who attended church at least once in the last six months. They were surveyed online between June 11–July 6, 2021, through a national consumer research panel. Included within the sample of churched adults is an oversample of 1,021 parents with children between the ages of 5 and 14 years old. The data has been statistically weighted by age, gender, race / ethnicity, income, education, region and parenting. The estimated margin of error is +/- 1.8%.

Additionally, Barna surveyed 600 U.S. Protestant church leaders who indicate they have decision-making responsibility for their church’s children’s ministry. Within this sample, 481 leaders are specifically on-staff children’s pastors, on-staff youth pastors or volunteer children’s leaders, and 119 leaders are senior pastors who don’t have a children’s ministry leader. For recruitment, Barna Group reached out to senior protestant pastors through Barna’s Pastor Panel and asked them to forward the invitation to whomever is responsible for children’s ministry in their church. The data has been statistically weighted by church size, region and denomination. The estimated margin of error is +/- 2.5%.

Photo by Josue Michel from Unsplash

© Barna Group, 2022.

About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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